Happy Independence Day?

Yep, you read that right! Another critical I-day special article floating around the web and appearing on your social media timelines. And yet another cynic who likes to ruin your festival by writing big fancy words and trying to engage you in a pseudo intellectual dialogue.

However, I’ll try my best to ruin your festival as less as I may be capable of and zip up the do’s and don’ts. After all, let’s be honest, we all will celebrate our “freedom” by flying kites, dressing in funky tri-color combinations and trying to get passes of one or another “Independence Day” special party.

Next day, major newspapers will cover the top-notch parties on Page 3, there will be a few cases of street harassment or sexual assault on women by some drunken men (the blame would be of course why women were roaming around the streets on a national holiday), a gigantic lot of litter created by people “celebrating” I-day in Lodhi Garden or Nehru Park, a few cases of road brawls created due to huge amounts of cars trying to get away from the city and as far as possible and the day will go on.

If it would have been so easy to celebrate and more importantly, commemorate I-day and be truly happy about it, I wouldn’t be writing this post, right? But, how can I truly be independent when I don’t even feel free from within? When will I feel free? Will it be when my country would become a rape-free country, when I won’t have to consider to settle abroad to secure mine and my children’s safety, when other people won’t curtail my freedom to walk around the streets anytime day or night without any fear of harassment, when boys could be home makers and girls could work as mechanics without being judged, when I’d be free from the shackles of stereotypes of being a militant, anti-men feminist?

Credits: Must Bol

Credits: Must Bol

Or will it be when urinating in public would be a crime and not couples holding hands? When people would be fined for throwing waste on the streets, when one would obey traffic rules because one should and not because a cop is nearby, when people will help the needy/elders and people with special needs without the need for posters, bill boards and reserved seats in the public transport?

When religion won’t restrict you to view the larger socio-economic, cultural and diverse image of your country? When even though you love your country, you’d still be able to criticize it without being or feeling offended? When love would mean improving our country’s situation and not turning a blind eye to it in the name of patriotism? When nationalists would see a child selling the national flag on the road as a sign of poverty instead of patriotism?

Too many questions, not enough answers and so little time. I, in my capacity may not be able to answer all these and many more. But, I can certainly do something to amend some of these issues plaguing my country. My freedom can only come from within me and only I can take action to bring the change I wish to see: Change Myself!

Hence, I pledge. I pledge to break my silence. I pledge to raise my voice. I pledge to stand up and take action. I pledge to publicly shame the person who is harassing me. I pledge not to judge someone by their appearance. I pledge to wear the seat belt ALL the time and throw the litter ONLY in the dustbin. I pledge to reclaim my day, my night, and my space. I pledge not to be afraid. I pledge to smile more. I pledge to look for happiness during gloomy days. I pledge to be more patient with children and elders. I pledge to show my gratitude to the door man, the guard, the peon, the auto-walla, and my domestic help and smile some more, smile to them.

To write and promise is easy, but to change your words into action is no child’s play. And forgive me, for I’m mere human. I will be true to my words, even if I’m not always able to turn them into reality. I will try my best and be my change.

Anyhow, I’m going to a potluck picnic in Nehru Park (Delhi) on I-Day. The idea usually is that everyone will cook and get their dishes and we all will sit together, fly kites, sing songs and basically enjoy. However, I had some concerns in mind and volunteered to clean the park after we are done littering it. To my utter pleasure, many people on that Facebook event raised similar concern and joined in to help me. So, I’d be doing all the above but also cleaning my mess afterwards. This is my way of celebrating Independence Day. Let me know what you plan to do and please feel welcome to join me if you are in the vicinity.

Oh, and yes, happy Independence Day!

 

Delhi says, welcome back!

It’s been almost a month now since I’m back home. I have been hogging on all those missed food items like crazy and my Punjabi family is just contributing to it with their extensive breakfasts and dinners. I re-visited all my favorite places in Delhi which I missed much. But life back home also means I have to reluctantly bring some changes in my lifestyle. Things that I could care about least are now top priority.

The first and most important change that I made as soon as I was back was to put some “extra” things in my bag. These “extra” things are my self-defense weapons whom I also fondly call “mere do anmol ratan” (okay, I’m just humoring myself). These are: one, a pepper spray which I have since December last year for obvious reasons. Second, a Swiss knife that I recently bought which is pretty handy. I occasionally also carry a scarf with me because I don’t drive (read: I can’t drive) and therefore travel a lot via public transport. I have the scarf because you see, exposing your neck, arms and shoulders can be too provocative for some and after all as we have recently learned “It’s our fault”, it is better to be safe than sorry (Fyi, heavy sarcasm involved here).

DSCN1137

There are two incidences which happened shortly after I came back. One was of street harassment and the other moral policing. I would like to describe these two in detail, I hope you will bear with me.

As mentioned above I usually carry my defense weapons in my bag whenever I go out, but this time as I was only walking in my own locality, I didn’t bother to take my bag and neither my weapons. But, you see, as soon as you step out of your Laksham Rekha, danger hovers over you like a fly hovers over a box of Haldiram’s sweets. So it was daytime, I was walking in my locality and there came this big white car (sorry, don’t know which one, it can be a City or an Accent, I’m really bad at this and I hardly care) with three young guys and drove past me. They were really young must be between 18-21. At least they looked younger than me. The driver slowed down the car and ogled at me through his side-view mirror. I ignored for the first time. I walked further peacefully. As I was on foot and they in a car, they drove past me twice and repeated the entire procedure again. I ignored them again.  But this didn’t deter their high spirit of scoring and they tried their luck for the third time. They drove past me again and stopped their car nearly a meter ahead of me. I lost my cool and showed the driver the “middle finger” through his side-view mirror. As expected his big inflated hot air balloon male ego deflated as if someone has pinched it with a pin. He stopped the car, got out and waited for me. By this time, even I was very furious and decided to take on the rage. The conversation went on something like this:

  • He: Why did you show me the “middle finger”?
  • I: Why the fuck were you ogling at me and driving your car past me after every two minutes?
  • He: I did not stare at you and I was waiting for my friend.
  • I: In that case, I did not abuse you. I was motioning to some stranger on the street.

Before he could conjure up any other accusations on me, I walked away and the entire drama ended there and then. Also, I guess because it was day time, there were people on the streets, the guys didn’t dare to take any action against their recently hurt ego. Now imagine the same incident at night. A woman walking down the street, three young guys in a car, dark, and fewer people around. They would have very easily pushed me into the car, silenced my wails and took me away. Further what would have happened, I will not dwell into as we all very well know. Next morning newspapers would have flashy headlines and my family would supposedly go into shame. I would be blamed for walking alone at night and ruining those young boys’ future.

The other incident which is on a more lighter note left me both angry as well as in laughter.  So I was in mall wearing a top which had a deep cut at the back. I was looking for some stuff in the woman’s section when this middle-age woman comes up to me from behind and touches me right at the open slit of my top (creepy).

  • Woman: Ye aapka top yaha se fata hua hai kya? (Is your top torn form here?)
  • I (with a stern face): Nahi, ye aisa hi hai. (No, it is like that.)
  • Woman (shocked and amused): Aisa hai? Par isme to peeche se dikh raha hai.. (Like that? But your back is visible.)
  • I (furious): Aapka bhi to pet dikha raha hai saree mein se (Even your tummy is visible from the saree.)

The woman is highly offended and is about to say something but her friend interrupts her, shushes her down and asks to get away. Fortunately for her, she is saved from my wrath because I sure had some more very interesting and offensive things to say. I look around, there are a few witnesses to the incident who are just staring back at me, in awe or in disgust, I couldn’t tell. With a cold face, I find my mom who is in some other section and narrate her the entire incident. She laughs it off and as compensation I get treated.

I don’t understand why people can’t mind their own business and how can one just come and touch a random stranger that too from behind. One can’t give the excuse that you belong to the same gender or that it was for your own well being. I mean, if somebody touches me from behind, the first thought that will come to my mind is that the person is eve teasing me and my instant reaction would be to turn around and slap the person black and blue in the face.

It is very interesting to know how the keepers of culture have taken their own eccentricities for granted and normalized it. So when it comes to a saree, a lehenga-choli and other such traditional Indian dresses, it is totally normal to expose your tummy, back, cleavage and what not. But if you’re wearing a “western”  top with a slit at the back, you automatically become “carrier” of western culture which is infiltrating our very pure and pious Indian culture. Now I think I should have also poked her tummy. It would have been more fun!

What did I learn from these incidents?

  1. Carry your self-defense weapons whenever and wherever you go. It doesn’t matter even if you are standing right outside your house.
  2. People who don’t mind their own business need a taste of their own medicine.
  3. When walking on the street, don’t look down, walk confident, shoulders out. Don’t give the impression that you are scared. Better, if possible, walk with a pissed off expression on your face especially when walking past a group of rogues.
  4. No matter what you do, what you wear, how you walk, talk, etc, people are going to say something because that’s their work. So don’t give a fuck about “log kya kahenge” and continue to stay amazing!

Au revoir Freedom! Hope to see you back home too..

Dear Freedom,

I’m writing this letter to you because it’s time to bid farewell now. It has been a wonderful time with you as my company and I think I owe you at least a farewell note. I hope when you read it, you are inspired to accompany me further. Right now, you are leaving me stranded. I don’t blame you, but I hope to see you again not where you are right now, but at my home, in my city and in my country.

I was away from home, in a far-off land. I roamed the streets alone with my camera and a book in my hand. I wandered day and night with no sign of fear in sight. I walked, ran and danced, without carrying a pepper spray in my hand. I wore a bikini at the beach and a coat when it was cold. The weather decided my clothes and not age-old customs or poking noses. I sat in my room and read the news back home. Their voices made my heart gloom, but I still enjoyed my foreign ride. I slowly forgot to look behind my shoulder from the corner of my eyes or to make an angry face while walking past a group of men. Not once did I feel why it is so difficult to be a woman. I went to bars and clubs for a drink or two and returned home drunk yet safe. I have waited for night buses at wee hours or early mornings. I have traveled in empty metros after a night full of fun and frolic. I had keys to my front door and could walk in and out whenever I wanted. I sat down under a tree or at a bench for hours, without encountering any weird gestures or awkward questions. Nobody asked me where I was going, with whom I was going and when will I be back. I had no one to answer except myself. I didn’t have to plan my outings before sunset or ask a trustworthy friend to drop me home. I made friends with men and women alike. I was alone with strangers at a lot of occasions without fearing the outcome. I asked for directions and help from different kinds of people. Not once did I fear that they would misdirect or misuse me. I talked with strangers on buses and trains during my various travels and shared a joke or two with them or ate lunch together. I did not avoid meeting anyone’s eyes as those eyes didn’t seek my flesh. Sometimes I felt, I’m another person living a distant dream and the things I experience don’t belong to me. It tasted bittersweet. I swam in the Mediterranean and climbed up the Alps. I did adventure sports from bungee jumping to scuba diving to sky diving. Nobody said how could a girl do this. I spent an entire night at a railway station in a country whose language I did not speak. I woke up the next morning untouched and unscathed. I did the simple act of walking back to my home at night. I felt so ecstatic while doing this. I felt as if I have some sort of power which I can finally use. I have been brought up in a relatively free-er environment than I would say my fellow citizens. But I would still never forget the time I spent with you, with zero incidences of sexual harassment or something even close to it. I used to talk of freedom well before that, but I never would’ve imagined what freedom really is if I hadn’t lived outside of my country. Even now, I sometimes cannot believe that I have lived the better part of my life in a lack of basic freedom.

I have to go now, it is my time. It will take some time getting used to do things without you, to be careful again, to not trust strangers so easily, to dress cautiously, to not wander alone, to come home before it gets dark and to many other things I’m not looking forward to. But I’m inviting you over, will you come Freedom? Will you visit me in my home? And will you stay with me forever? Will you? …

P.S. This post is in reference to my five-month research stay in Germany and to my various travels in and around Europe.

Women_freedom_by_rush2anthony

 

 

Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Women’s Web and Youth Ki Awaaz

Walking at night- a fantasy?

Before I start with my own story, I would first like to marvel at this very simple yet powerful and effective comic strip. This comic strip is a part of Sinfest, a web comic written and drawn by American comic strip artist Tatsuya Ishida (a pseudonym, I guess). He’s an invisible web comic artist and one of the interesting things you can see as he matured is that he’s gone from drawing pimp ninjas and geisha sluts to developing a very feminist sensibility. I have posted, liked, circulated his comic strips on social media and on my page on feminism, but this by far has been my favourite. Four pictures and three lines: that’s what it takes to speak a million words, words which are so strong that they pierce you from within. It is like he has hit not one but many bull’s eyes with one single dart. It is a shame for this world in this century that walking at night is a feminist utopia fantasy story.

Now let’s get back to my own fantasy story…

The other day I was coming back home after having dinner with a couple of friends. (A note to those who don’t know: I am an Indian woman who is currently living in Munich, Germany). It was about 11 pm, not very late and I was peacefully walking back home without carrying a pepper spray or any kind of weapon to defend myself. The act was very simple I had dinner with some friends, after biding them farewell, I took the underground and from my station I walked till my home. When home, I changed, brushed my teeth and went to sleep. Now you may ask what is so special about this simple act of going home after an evening engagement that I had to write an entire blog post about it.

While I was still doing this simple act, i.e.,  walking back home (I know I am stressing on it and it looks repetitive, but it is important to mention the act) I realised how this simple act was unimaginable for me a couple of months back while I was still in India, how I always needed the company of a trusted male friend who owned a car and about whom I was very sure that he would drop me home safely. I remembered how for many many women this is still a utopia, a fantasy and they might not be able to do this simple act their entire lives. They will go to their graves without taking a walk at night.

Living in Germany since the past four months this act had become a part of my daily routine, my life where I would walk back everyday in the evening either after university or from other prior engagements. I got so used to it that I didn’t realise that it is something special that I should treasure because it is a privilege that I am receiving right now from this country.

And then the hard reality hit me. I am going back to India in a month’s time. I am going back home after five months. I will meet my family, see my friends and loved ones. But was I happy? Yes and No. I was dreading this moment and now it is slowly coming to me. I would never be able to do this simple act of walking back home at night again. I would again require my trusted male friends who would drop me home safely. I would never again be able to smell the night’s air or watch the moon walking quietly behind me.

All this happened while I was still walking and by the time I reached my home and unlocked the door, I was sad, very sad. Only the thought that this is soon coming to an end, that I will have to bid farewell to this freedom spoiled my joyful happy meeting friends night and made me cry, cry not just for myself. not just for my own freedom, but for every woman who lives shackled and oppressed. I was sad and depressed till sleep took a better hold of me. That night I quietly went into my room, changed, brushed my teeth and went to sleep.

What is it like to taste a “foreign” freedom..

“Foreign” Freedom. What is that? Why do I call it “foreign”?

I have been living in Germany since the past two months now. This is not my first stay abroad. Before this I have lived in Germany twice in 2009 for almost an year and then for a month in Bangkok in 2011. I tasted this “foreign” freedom for the first time in 2009 when I was in Berlin. That feeling that you can actually take a walk at any time of the day and no body isn’t even going to look at you, let alone eve-tease you or sexually harass you elated me. I could do whatever I want and wear what I felt like. I didn’t have to worry about my security or ask any one to drop me home safely as it got late. I was independent in the true sense of the word.

But, this post is not about how much I enjoyed my foreign stays and how I would rather stay in Germany than India. It is actually the opposite. Many have asked me why I don’t want to stay in Germany. Some say I’m a fool not to use this opportunity to flee from that pathetic land. True I love my life here, but it somehow just doesn’t feel right, it is bitter-sweet. It is like you’re in Disneyland with your most favourite toy, but deep down inside you know it, that you don’t own that toy, that it doesn’t belong to you. That you don’t feel at home here. And that is why I call this freedom “foreign”. Not because I experienced it in foreign countries, but because I don’t identify myself with this freedom. I don’t want to travel 9000 kilometres to freely take a walk at night. I want to do it right here in my own land, my own home town, the place where I grew up and the place I identify myself with.

I know many people (which includes women as well as men) migrate to other countries to flee from oppression they experience in their own. But I don’t see it as a solution. Yes, it is a individual-based solution, but not a mass-based. It is the same logic as behind Brain- Drain. You get a job, you fly abroad, you become a NRI and then whine about how shitty your country is and how well you are doing here. I don’t want to be the kind of woman who writes about women’s issues from her Mac sitting in a cosy Café and enjoying the weather. I would rather do that in my own land and see to it that every woman can do that irrespective of where they are, be it the West or the East.

I don’t want to run away or avoid this situation, I want to change it. Many of you might view this as being patriotic or revolutionary. I’m none of that. I just want to live my life and do what I want to do. Some people call that rebellion, especially if you are a woman.

I won’t hide. I will seek. I will seek the change, the freedom, the fight.

I am not giving up, I have just started fighting and I will fight till the very end.

colorful change 1 copy

Sum Total

One Indian woman

Plus

a feminist

Minus

a fair, homely, beautiful eligible girl

Plus

determined and strong opinionated

Minus

tall, slim and a slender figure

Plus

independent and a critical-thinker

Minus

traditional, cultured, well-mannered and modest

Plus

anti-patriarchal and anti-misogyny

Minus

submissive, docile, adjusting home-maker

Plus

fearless and honest

Minus

faithful and God-fearing

Plus

rational and practical

Minus

a “abla naari”

Divided by

nothing

Multiplied by

a strong desire to fight back and live

sums me up.

P.S. This post has been inspired from a film by Sonali. Original title of the film is “Sum Total. A Matrimonial” . Sonali is an activist and filmmaker who has made several films including Sum Total and Barefeet.

Disclaimer: This poem has also been published on Women’s Web and The Alternative.

I am born.

I am born. I hear cries of “it’s a girl, it’s a girl! Everyone is happy (I think…). I meet my mother. She looks at me with doleful eyes. Why the mixed emotions? Other people come to me and perform traditional and religious ceremonies. I am loaded with flowers, new clothes, gifts and shagun (money).

I am 3 years old. I wear frocks and play with Barbie. I dress her up, she is pretty. I want to be like her when I grow up. Papa says: I am like a doll.

I am 5 now. I go to school. Convent school. We learn, pray and learn. I want to play outside. But, it’s dark now, says Mamma. I play with Dhruv. He is my best friend. Papa tells me to call him “Bhaiyya”. But he is not my brother. I wonder …

I enter Teens. School uniform changes. We wear shalwar kameez now. But we did wear skirts before. Why the sudden change. It’s so hot. I wonder…

Today we learned something new at school. Periods. Momma says: be careful, and don’t talk about it in front of Papa. I also have to wear a bra now. I don’t like it, it hurts me, it’s too tight.

Mamma says I am a big girl now. But they don’t let me go out on my own. I should sit with closed legs and behave properly. I also help in the kitchen now. I can make tea, Maggie and chappatis. Mamma took me to a beauty parlour. I didn’t like it, it was so painful. Why do I need this? Don’t I look okay already? …

School trip going to Shimla. I want to go. Papa says no.

I score 85% in 10th boards. Papa is so proud and Mamma is crying with happiness. They tell everyone neighbours, relatives and friends. I get new clothes.

I want to study Political Science. Papa says, take Home Science, it’s best for you.

I go to College. Girl’s College. Again. Boys are bad. Obviously.

I study English Literature. I learn a lot of different things. Mamma doesn’t like some of them. She says it spoils the mind of an innocent sweet girl like me.

College trip going out again. I plead. This time Mamma supports me. But Papa says, it’s dangerous for young girls to go out alone. I keep quiet.

I graduate with flying colours. Gold medal from the university. Mamma and Papa are very happy. I want to look for a job. I want to write. I want to study further. Abroad. No.

Papa asks what are your future plans? Marriage: Love  or arranged. No option.

Advertisement in matrimonial:

A fair, homely, convent-educated, bright girl looks for a teetotaler boy from decent family with a handsome package.

But I don’t want to, do I? I wonder … Mamma said I will start a new life, I should be obedient and dutiful.

Study further: Yes  or No.

Job: Yes  or No.

Marriage: Yes or No.

I try to rebel. TRY. REBEL.

I will rise.

I will rise.

Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Women’s Web.